Monday, July 27, 2020

Khabarovsk Shows Kremlin Incapable of Dealing with the Unexpected, Shevtsova Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 25 – The protests in Khabarovsk and the Kremlin’s response have highlighted the unfortunate reality that the Putin system has no serious regional administrators who can take local interests into account because it has “liquidated the concept of ‘local interest’ along with local self-administration,” Liliya Shevtsova says.

            But what Khabarovsk has exposed is more serious than that, the Russian political analyst says. It shows that “the Kremlin has not prepared professionals who could resolve social and political conflicts” of a broader kind and, what is still worse, “does not have a mechanism for reacting to a crisis” (

            As a general matter, Shevtsova continues, “the powers that be aren’t prepared for the unexpected” and thus respond not to the new developments but with the assumption that all the things they have done in the past are appropriate no matter how much circumstances have changed, an approach to guarantees mistakes and even disasters.

            The Kremlin is of course prepared for protests of the kind it expects, be they in Moscow or Shiyes or Yekaterinsburg, but “the powers that be do not know how to deal with spontaneous anger on the part of the electorate which forms its base.” As a result, she argues, it has politicized what began as an initially spontaneous and non-political situation.

            It would be one thing if Khabarovsk were the Kremlin’s only problem in this regard. But it faces many more including but not limited to the September elections, dealing with the pandemic and getting Russia out of the deep recession it now finds itself in.  The citizens of the far eastern city have sent a warning that old methods, including repression, won’t be enough.

            Those methods intended to suppress dissent will now have the effect of spreading it, Shevtsova suggests, and consequently, while no one can say exactly what unexpected challenges Russia will face, one can say with a high degree of confidence that the Putin regime is not ready for them and will respond according to a model increasingly out of date.

            “Russia finds itself in a trap which the powers themselves created.” Because the Kremlin won’t allow any opening of the smallest channel through which popular opinions can pass and the leadership can consider lest that be a sign of weakness. But by holding the line, there is a risk that when the Kremlin is forced to back down, things will truly come apart.

            That is what happened under Gorbachev; and it is entirely possible that it may occur under Putin and for many of the same reasons. But this time, the Kremlin leader is making peaceful change impossible, thus opening the door to the possibility that it will be achieved by violence, something with sad and even more unpredictable consequences.

            The Russian Far East is thus a distant early warning sign of what may happen in the future, given the rising anger of the population and the inability to learn and be open on the part of the Putin regime. 

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